Saturday, September 01, 2012
How to Make a Sure-Fire Bestseller
By OFW chief editor: Carlos J Cortes
Published: July 28, 2012

At a recent expatriate writer’s gathering, someone dropped one of those questions that need few words to posit and reams of paper to answer: Is there a formula to write a bestseller?
After lengthy exchanges getting progressively louder, as an excellent Rioja oiled rusty neurons and the air thickened with herbal aromas, we agreed there was not one but several such formulas.
To transcribe the letter of the proceedings would be long and difficult to follow; the attendees drifted, passed out or fell under the table—and had to be revived with more Rioja which only worsened matters—but I’ll attempt to give you the gist of an enlightening debate. I’ve listed below in order of increasing difficulty the results of our efforts to figure out how to produce a sure-fire bestseller.
1. If you’re bedding a top executive from one of the giant publishers, or a majority shareholder, or better still; a favorite member of the company owner’s progeny, the solution is simple: write anything. Your paramour will ensure that the damn thing is ghosted, rewritten, edited, polished and marketed to the hilt (here “the hilt” is The New York Times bestseller’s list). If this is you, your chances are one in one: you can’t fail.
2. If you are a household name, after selling a zillion copies of the only decent plot—and its endless follow-ups—you stumbled across in your writing life, the solution is simple: carry on writing anything. Your agent, publishers—and whoever has milked your output—will push your drivel to the hilt. (For an explanation of “hilt” check the closing of point 1). If this is you, your chances are one in two: Regardless of your background and lucky run, the roulette ball can land on the double-zero, and then you’re done for.
3. If your family owns a publishing house—your folks may be crack editors, or have been in the publishing business since Guttenberg’s times—the solution is simple: write anything and then continue writing anything. Don’t worry; Mom, Dad or Aunty Gladys will endeavor (as a matter of family pride) to squeeze your ramblings to the hilt. (Surely you know the meaning of “hilt” by now). ). If this is you, your chances are one in four. Recently, too many have tried to jump into the “familia” wagon: the literary Cosa Nostra. As happens in the Sicilian operations, the local Dons don’t like poachers.
4. If your closest hit at the professionals’ field is the local librarian, have never published anything beyond shopping lists and your folks are into farming or other equally sensible and honest business, the solution is a tad harder:
You need a killer plot, something that has never been done before. You need a killer story told from a killer angle. Example: If your cup of tea is romance, forget about abs, throbbing manhoods and constricted orbs paining to burst free from their lacy prisons. Forget it; it has been done before and probably much better than you can ever manage.
You need to be original and fearless. Go for broke. Craft a bigger-than-life torrid affair between a dwarf and a basketball pivot. Explore the nuances of their daily life, their little miseries, and great achievements. Not hard enough? One could be blind and the other autistic.
To write any plot with such a cast of characters you’ll need research, study, and in-depth investigation, probably lasting several years before you begin to glimpse the hostile world inhabited by the challenged or impaired. Of course, to transfer onto paper such extraordinary realities your command of prose must also be extraordinary. I reckon that a decade or two will suffice.
Once your manuscript is completed, rewritten a few times, and polished to a shine, my advice would be to seek the best editor in the business, take a second mortgage on your house, and have your project edited by a master pro.
If this is you, your chances are one in one-hundred. You see, there’s no doubt in my mind you’ll publish it. But going to the “hilt” if you don’t fit into categories 1, 2, or 3, is damn hard.
5. If you belong to our mongrel-scribe club, chances are you working your ass off in your daytime job to make ends meet, your plots are as common as muck, your command of the language sucks and you can barely scrounge a few dollars for a printer’s cartridge—let alone an editor. The solution to your quandary is as unfathomable as the gender of the angels or the number of fairies that can cavort on the tip of a needle. Take heart, my friend, our chances are about one in a million, which easily beats the lottery.

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